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House of Commons Hansard
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12 June 2014
Volume 582
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8. What recent estimate he has made of levels of UK fish stocks. [904175]

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The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea assesses the state of EU fish stocks annually. The next round of advice for the majority of European fish stocks, including those in UK waters, will be released on 30 June, and will inform decisions on 2015 fishing quotas that will be made at the 2014 December EU Fisheries Council.

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Given that fishing is such an important part of Southend’s economy, it is very disappointing that stocks of sole, plaice, cod and herring have been depleted as a result of channel deepening via suction dredging. Will my hon. Friend please look into that, and ensure that the Thames estuary is pollution-free and full of fish again?

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This issue was raised with me during a recent conference of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, and my hon. Friend has written to me about it as well. The chief fisheries science adviser at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science has subsequently overseen an initial investigation of the issue, and has prepared a detailed report that acknowledges that there has been a decline in stocks recently. The cause of the decline is not clear, but some have pointed the finger at the London Gateway development. Other possible causes include the discharge of surface water that may contain contaminants. Another meeting is planned for July, when next steps will be decided on.

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Given that it is clearly in everyone’s interests for the UK fishing industry to modernise and, in so doing, to use good data to protect and grow fish stocks, why has the Minister allowed the Marine Management Organisation to relax its commitment to use a European Union grant that was specifically designed to support the sector for that purpose?

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I do not accept that. The lion’s share of the European maritime and fisheries fund will be invested in selective net gear and used to support work relating to the discard ban.

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Responsible drift netting plays an important role in the management of UK fish stocks, and has been a traditional part of fishing off the East Anglian coast for centuries. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will ensure that the European Commissioner’s proposed blanket ban on drift netting, which will destroy what is left of the Lowestoft fleet, is not introduced?

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We are aware of the issue, and we think that the targeting of species such as herring, bass and salmon by UK drift net fisheries is a far cry from the type of drift netting with which the previous ban sought to deal in the Mediterranean. We will be negotiating for the application of a risk-based regional approach to ensure that the right fisheries are monitored and required to take the appropriate litigation action when that is necessary, without the imposition of a blanket ban on drift netting.